July 17, 2012

2012 Campaign Spending, or An Economic Stimulus for Ad Men

Here's a quandary to get you tied up in knots on a Tuesday morning.  As you, dear reader, have likely heard reported ubiquitously, there has already been a pant load of money raised this year by political campaigns all across this great land.  (In fact, the story of campaign spending has been reported so widely and so breathlessly that I shouldn't need to have written the last sentence.  We could have just looked each other in the eye, and nodded in unspoken agreement.)  The unprecedented level of spending directly on campaigns, and indirectly on super-PACs, has caused a not insignificant amount of hand wringing about its impact on our democracy.  Me?  I am deeply conflicted about it.  To wit:

Larry Lessig, writing in the The Atlantic, argues that the way our campaigns are funded ultimately disenfranchises the vast majority of voters, and renders the country ungovernable.  Any small group can mobilize opposition to any candidate or issue rendering it virtually impossible to make progress on just about any problem you can name.  I don't think any sensible person would seriously contest the merit of Lessig's argument.  There is obvious peril in seeding influence to so few. 


Well meaning Congressmen have tried passing campaign finance reform legislation, and the Supreme Court just keeps volleying it back down Capitol St.  The constitution grants the rights of free speech and assembly, which has been (rightly) extended to cover organizations.  Plus, there is already well established legal precedent protecting the ability of corporations and interest groups to raise funds and speak out independently.  I can't imagine how these groups could be written out of the political picture without some serious constitutional gymnastics.
Which describes my ambivalence about the current state of campaign finance.  On the one hand, as a democracy we must defend anyone's right, as an individual or as an organization, to speak his mind.  (I won't get into the anonymity debate here, but let's just say I think is contrary to a free an open discourse to have people lobbing grenades from the shadows.)  If that means having to raise a lot of money to be heard widely, so be it.  On the other hand, it is clear in the days of an overgrown K St. and super-PACs that elected offices are being sold to the highest bidder to the detriment of our democracy as a whole.

First, we must all accept that neither party is going to give up corporate campaign contributions, nor stop courting wealthy donors of its own volition.  Next, we can't and shouldn't limit the rights of corporations and individuals to support what causes and candidates that they will, no matter how unseemly it may appear.  Just because we don't like what somebody, some group, or some corporation has to say, we can't keep them from saying it.  That is the trap that otherwise intelligent people fall into repeatedly.

The real solution to getting the democracy that we all SAY that we want is to neutralize the affect of money in politics.  If it is the obscene spending on campaigns that we all dislike so much, then the only answer is to make money irrelevant.  The only way to do that, it seems, is to tie electoral success to winning in the marketplace of ideas.

Exactly how that is even hypothetically possible is a topic for another lengthy post.  So, while you are waiting for that to become fully fleshed out and unleashed, just look on the bright side.  If all of this spending on campaigns is making you uneasy, just think of it as an economic stimulus for campaign staffers, ad copy writers, and super-PAC attack dogs.

No comments:

Post a Comment

This is our internet. Let's be nice to and respect one another.